Shyama Shastri – Composer of Karnatic Music

Shyama Shastri biography

Shyama Shastri actual name was Venkata Subrahmanyam. He was born on 26th April 1762 in Thirur, Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu. His father name was Visvanatha Iyer and Mother Vengalakshmi. Shyama Shastri contributed a lot to the classical Karnatic music. He was contemporary to Thyagaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Both were good friends and met often and spend a lot of time discussing on the Karnatic Music.
He was born in a Brahmin family, Parents had no particular interest in Music. However, his father educated him in Sanskrit and Telugu languages, besides of these taught devotional songs. His interest in Music made him learn fundamentals from his cousins.

Shyama Shastri Learning Music

At the age of 18, his family migrated to Thanjavur, luckily they found a monk Sangitaswami, who was talented in classical music and dance. In a short time, Sangita Swami found out the boy’s interest and intellectuality in music. Shyama Shastri had a melodious voice and can understand easily the complexity of musical tones. So that the monk taught him the concepts of raga, tala, and swarm. Within four months of time, Shyama Shastri learned profoundly the intricate details of the music. Then Sangeeta Shastri advised him to listen to the music of Adiyappayya, the famous composer of Bhairavi Rag and the musician in the court of Tanjore. As the advice, he met Adiyappayya made friends and learned some techniques in learning various music Raagas.

Friendship with Thyagaraja

His interest in Music, the composition of Ragas, the melodious voice made famous in the surrounding villages. Later he became one of the proficient Scholar and composer in Tamil Nadu. Frequently Thyagaraja admired him about the talent of Shyama Shastri in Karnatic music. This made both good friends, caused to discussing on their latest compositions of songs.

Devotee of Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi

His forefathers worked in the temples as the priests. His father also a priest in Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi temple. Shyama Shastri also went to temple and worship the Goddess. This made grew faith in Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi. Gradually, he became a pious devotee of Goddess and forgetting the material world while doing service in the temple. During that time unconsciously he would sing the praising Kritis. However, he wrote only 300 Kritis, very less to compare his contemporaries. He had a very little number of disciples so that his kritis were not propagated and the printing presses also not available in those days to store the Kritis as printing materials. Even though his krities became very popular. He wrote the Kritis in Telugu, Tamil, and Sanskrit. Especially most of his Kritis were composed on Goddess Devi.
Shyama Shastri used the common ragas to compose the Krithis such were Manj, Chintamani and Karnataka Kepi. The favorite ragas were Saveri and the old raga Anandabhairavi.

Shyama Shastri Defeated top Musicians

Once the Bobbili musician Kesavayya Challenged the Tanjavur court musicians in intricate talas. Then Shyama Shastri went to Devi temple, meditated sometime and sang ‘Devi brova Samayamide’, which means time is ready to protect me. Later went to the court of Thanjavur and defeated Kesavayya. In another time participated in a contest with Appukuti Nattuvanar, the famous classical musician and defeated him. Since then Appukutti didn’t use his tamboura and tala forever.
He composed 300 songs, most of his songs were composed in the Telugu language. Only a few were in Tamil and Sanskrit. The composition style of his songs was very easy and can easily convey the meaning to the illiterate also.
Shyama Shastri had two Sons, Panju Shastri, and Subrahmanya Shastri. He maintained the family with strong bondage. He encouraged his sons to learn music. Subrahmanya Shastri learned Karnatic music and also a famous musician as his father. He also a disciple of Thyagaraja. Shyama Shastri died on 6 February 1827.